Fri, 02 May 2003

Thousands of workers mark Labor Day nationwide

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Thousands of workers took to the streets in Jakarta and other cities across the country on Thursday to commemorate International Labor Day, which falls on May 1, demanding improvements in legal protection and their welfare.

Besides Jakarta, Medan in North Sumatra, Surabaya in East Java, Semarang in Central Java and Makassar in South Sulawesi also saw massive labor rallies.

Representing many labor unions, the workers also demanded the revocation of newly endorsed Law No. 13/2003 on manpower and the draft law on settlement of industrial disputes, which they said favored employers.

The workers also said the government should declare May 1 a national holiday as demanded frequently by workers.

Cirebon-based Workers and the Environment Foundation (YBLH) chairman Yoyon Suharyono said that besides marking solidarity with workers around the globe, May 1 also marks victory day for Indonesian workers in their fight for their rights and justice.

"Founding president Soekarno declared May 1 as a national holiday in Government Regulation No. 153/1956, which is still in effect. So, it makes sense if his daughter, incumbent President Megawati Soekarnoputri, revives the policy," he said, adding that they were disappointed with the government for paying inadequate attention to workers' welfare.

The workers also demanded the resignation of Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Jacob Nuwa Wea.

Besides the labor rallies, thousands of students in Jakarta and Makassar also staged demonstrations, demanding that Megawati and Vice President Hamzah Haz step down for their failure to control the increases in utility rates.

In Jakarta, the rally was organized by the Action Committee for May 1, which includes the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (SBMI), the Women's Alliance, the Federation of Indonesian Metal Workers Union (FSPMI) and the Indonesian Labor National Front (FNBI).

Holding free-speech forums at the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle, the workers also staged a rally in front of the Presidential Palace on Jl. Medan Merdeka Utara, Central Jakarta, but no Cabinet members met them.

Student groups and many social welfare organizations also joined in the May Day rally, providing more reasons for the resignation of Megawati and Hamzah, who they said had ignored the people's suffering.

They said workers have been worst hit by the economic crisis and the increasing prices of basic commodities.

Turning a deaf ear to the workers' demands, minister Jacob praised the demonstration for not erupting into violence, but said the protesters did not represent Indonesian workers and suspected they were hoodlums paid to rock the boat.

"The rallies were carried out by a small number of people, not more than a few thousand, compared to the 40 million-strong Indonesian work force," he said before attending the launch of a book on industrial relations written by labor economist Payaman Simanjuntak.

He added that the rally in Jakarta was organized by only seven labor unions, while there were 68 unions registered with the ministry.

He claimed that 38 unions had expressed their support of the new law on manpower and warned the demonstrators not to provoke other workers to skip work to join the rallies demanding the annulment of the law.

He said the government would not revoke the law on manpower, which was endorsed by the House of Representatives on Feb. 26, saying that "it is the final and best result, which should be accepted by both workers and employers".